Co-judging the mental wellbeing category for six-two’s 35 under 35 initiative are two talented and hella inspiring YouTube influencers, Alayna Fender and Michael Rizzi. Both outspoken advocates for mental health, self-acceptance and LGBT+ rights, we sat them down with them both to get the low down on navigating mental wellbeing for young people in a world where social media is king...
Why did you begin creating content around sexuality, body confidence and mental health?
Michael: I began creating content around these issues because they were topics that I wish had a platform when I was younger. Especially with sexually and the LGBTQ+ community, most content aired late night, so it always felt very “hush hush.” I wanted to create accessible content that spoke to key issues that television and movies weren’t catering to.
Alayna: When I was in high school, and later university, I was struggling with my own mental health and sexuality. I found a safe space on YouTube, and a community of other people who were going through the same things that I was.
"I began creating content surrounding mental health and sexuality to hopefully be that comfort for someone else. I want to normalize these issues to the point where they aren’t issues anymore!" - ALAYNA FENDER
Why do you feel so passionately about helping others understand and deal with these types of topics?
Michael: At first, I just had a passion to contribute to an online community of people who didn’t feel as if they ‘fit in.’ After I started receiving heartwarming messages from viewers, I realized that my voice wasn’t just important, it reached far across the globe. If my content could be an escape for those young people, then that was enough drive for my passion to keep creating.
Alayna: I feel passionately about mental health and sexuality because they are both things that so many people struggle with, and so many people are demonized for. I’ve been there, I understand. I’ve also found acceptance around my own mental health and sexuality, along with tools and resources that I want to share. Maybe they’ll help someone else the way they help me!
MORE FROM ALAYNA: MY STORY OF TRAVELLING WITH ANXIETY
I have been a big ol’ storm of anxiety recently. I think it’s partially due to coming down from the constant highs of our trip to New Zealand (getting to experience the top of a glacier ??being one of them!!), and partially due to certain things in my life not moving along quite as planned. Thank you for being patient with me while I disappeared from Instagram for a bit, I have needed some time to retreat. ? On another note, here are some things that are bringing me so much happiness: Sharing my first New Zealand vlog with you all (LINK IN BIO!). Teaching my next MSC program, starting next week! All the wonderful, supportive people in my life. ? Right now my brain is just a little stormy, but I know it will pass right on through.
Is there a particular wellbeing cause you feel especially passionate about and why?
Michael: Both my partner and I have spoken openly on my YouTube channel about our struggle navigating mental health and wellbeing.
"As someone in a long-term relationship with a partner who experiences mental health issues, I’d say that empathy and understanding are key points I’m passionate about." - MICHAEL RIZZI
Alayna: I am especially passionate about mindfulness and compassion. Mindfulness was the first tool that I found that really helped me with my anxiety. Later, I discovered compassion, which had an equally powerful effect. Both of these practices have genuinely changed my life, and I shout them from the rooftops hoping they can change someone else’s as well.
Why are causes like sexuality, body confidence and mental wellbeing especially pertinent to young people?
Michael: Nowadays, it’s very accessible for young people to find a community online that has similar experiences. When you get together a group of people with similar experiences and hardships, social change is bound to follow. These are things that weren’t available to the previous generation!
Alayna: I think that while issues like sexuality, body confidence and mental wellbeing affect people of all ages, when you are young you are easier to impact. If we can show young people that they have nothing to be ashamed of, not in their body, not in their mental health, not in their sexuality, then I think we are setting them up for success.
How have you seen young people change and shape laws and thinking around wellbeing?
Michael: When I first joined YouTube, there was a multitude of LGBTQ+ folks who were creating social justice content. For a lot of young people, LGBTQ+ content was the backbone for their own pride and wellbeing. It’s a powerful concept, the idea that content creation and discussion can affect the way we shape laws and thinking in society.
MORE FROM MICHAEL: WHY SPAIN IS ONE OF THE BEST COUNTRIES TO TRAVEL TO IF YOU ARE LGBTQ
Alayna: Most notable, I’ve seen a general shift toward inclusivity in all generations. I believe that young people have started, and fought to continue, many difficult and important conversations surrounding mental health, body image, and sexuality. These conversations have then been heard, and picked up by all ages! It’s a positive trickle effect.
"Young people are asking for the world to be better, and the world is starting to listen." - ALAYNA FENDER
What attracted you to being involved with six-two’s 35 under 35 initiative?
Michael: I wanted to be involved with six-two’s 35 under 35 initiative because it was a great opportunity to shed light on digital creators. I’m really happy that Alayna and I were able to bring a creator perspective to the nominees, and showcase people that are spearheading change from their social media.
Alayna: I love the idea of celebrating and lifting up those who are making a difference. It’s often the worst in the world that are the loudest, so I’m excited to shout about people doing some good.
Why do you think initiatives like this, that celebrate young people, are so important?
Michael: The wealth of nominees from six-two’s 35 under 35 demonstrates the passion behind so many young people. It’s important to celebrate young people and provide a platform for them to lead; they’re the next generation that will lead & provide an example for the younger generation.
Alayna: By celebrating the accomplishments of young people, we are not only encouraging them to keep doing the good that they’re doing, but we are showing all the other young people who are watching that they can do good too. We are showing them that not only do young people matter, but that they are powerful.
What credentials were you looking for in the nominees you selected?
Michael: I was looking for nominees that didn’t just give a voice to body confidence and wellbeing; I wanted to find people that were intersectional, and spoke to a range of issues that young people are facing, such as racial inequality and gender expression. These are issues at the forefront in today’s world, and those speaking on them are leading the fight towards social equity.
Alayna: I was looking for individuals that have had a continually positive impact on their communities and the world. These individuals have taken personal struggles and turned them into triumphs and passions. They are each proud advocates of wellness in their own way. By sharing their stories, experiences, and knowledge with the world, they are not only normalizing difference but celebrating difference.
To learn more about the six-two 35 under 35 initiative, and to see the individuals who made the list, head here.